Summertime has always meant the opportunity for long road trips, the most notable joy of which is putting my favorite music on the stereo and cranking it up as I cruise into what Ed Abbey called the Back of Beyond. In the old days I would spend untold hours in preparation, transferring my favorite record albums onto cassette tapes. The trips back then were longer, most prominently the one from Chicago to Hayward, Wisconsin, and the musical menu a bit different. It might range from singing along with The Kingston Trio, to Canned Heat, to whatever jazz greats I could slip into the playlist for the benefit of the uninitiated among my fellow camp counselors.
Now, as I prepare for a visit to Tuolumne Meadows in the Yosemite High Country, my requirements have been modified, somewhat. I still like to crank it up, sing along, or just get carried along by the groove. The main thing nowadays, is that I have to stay awake. As much as I love Stan Getz and Bill Evans, they are not going to get me through the vast nothingness that is Rte. 395 from Mojave to Lone Pine. And just loud isn’t enough, either. Monotony can put you to sleep as easily as a lullaby. The music has to be engaging.
Technology has altered the picture, of course. CDs and iPods have eliminated the need for home taping systems, although anyone who has seen me try and navigate my iPod through the radio dials might feel safer if I was asleep. And then there are cell phones. Let me make it clear that I consider the Freedom of the Open Road to be a freedom from this blight upon mankind. The only thing I want to hear less than my cellphone ringing is YOUR cellphone ringing. The unspeakable rudeness of having a passenger turn the volume down on my Bonnie Raitt CD to yak on the phone with someone (other than me) makes me yearn for an “eject” button.
Seriously. Don’t even think about it.
Here, then, is a short list of albums, for those of you not into assembling your own playlist or tuning in Sirius, or unable to find a baseball game as you hurtle through the desert, or across the Interstate. Yes, it reflects my personal, jazz-oriented tastes, and I know you’ll substitute the Dead, or Willie Nelson, or whomever. But this is my Sort of Top 5 For The Road, with the same type of leeway you give to the speed limit.
5A: Dear Diz, Arturo Sandoval. If Sandoval’s stratospheric trumpet can’t keep you awake, not much can. The newest CD on the list, Sandoval’s big band features terrific arrangements of Dizzy Gillespie tunes, plus cameos by Eddie Daniels, Gary Burton, Bob Mintzer and Joey DeFrancesc
5B: Brotherhood, Gene Harris. Actually, practically anything by Gene Harris will do. His funky tremolo will keep you going for miles without need of caffeine. Brotherhood was one of the many CDs Gene made with his quartet for Concord after bassist Ray Brown coaxed him out of his Idaho retirement. His gigs with the Ray Brown Trio work equally well.
3: Road Tested, Bonnie Raitt. This is a double CD made from live performances and has been road tested personally many times. It includes highlights from the post-Nick of Time years, plus songs for those of us who go way back with Bonnie, including “Angel From Montgomery,” “Louise,” “Three Time Loser” and more. (Take along her new one, Slipstream, too.)
2: Bop For Kerouac, Mark Murphy. What better than to go on the road with On The Road? Vocalist Mark Murphy is at his best here, interweaving the writings of Jack Kerouac with the bebop that inspired him. Bebop lives!
2A: Que Viva Mingus, The Mingus Big Band. Mix the compositional genius of Charles Mingus with a Latin-tinged big band and keep your eyes on the road. From the opening of “Cumbia & Jazz Fusion” to the closing “Ysabel’s Table Dance,” this will keep you riveted, with a band that includes Randy Brecker, David Sanchez, Chris Potter and a terrific rhythm section.
1. MF 4 and 5, Live at Jimmy’s, Maynard Ferguson. I suppose this is my guilty pleasure. I loved Maynard’s bands of the early ‘70s, and this double album was the best of that period. Freed from the commercial restrictions Columbia put on his other albums, Live at Jimmy’s featured mostly original jazz compositions like “Nice and Juicy” and “Stay Loose With Bruce,” which spotlighted the other star of this band, baritone sax player Bruce Johnstone. The combination of Maynard’s piercing horn and these great arrangements will keep you awake and alert.
Well, that ought to do it. Now if I can just figure out where the bathrooms are between Mojave and Lone Pine…
Postscript: Special Bonus Choice! The Soundtrack from the Motion Picture Remembering Phil.